The Danger of Ignoring the Latino Vote This November
By Bill Gallegos. Posted Oct. 18, 2022
We wish to thank Bill Gallegos for allowing us to post this article, which first appeared in the Nation magazine on Oct. 17, 2022.
Generally, Latinos are rendered invisible in US mainstream (and a lot of the Left) media. The exceptions of course are the “perp walk” images featured in local TV news outlets, usually showing “suspected gang members” being taken in by the police. But let’s also not forget the persistent images in US films and television of Latinos as drug dealers/drug lords, or other type of criminal–in the few times when we are able to crash the industry. I’m not making any of this up. The most recent research shows that Latinos have about 4% annual representation in US films, TV, and commercials. It is a remarkable feat of magic to make the 62 million Latinos in this country invisible. Latinos are nearly 19% of the U.S. population, accounting for 51.1% of the country’s growth according to the 2020 US Census. By 2060, the Latino population is projected to be 111.2 million people, which will be 28% of the U.S population.
The three largest US Latino populations are Chicanos/Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans (not including those on the island), and Central Americans. These tend to be overwhelmingly working-class populations, and they share a tortured history with the U.S. government, i.e., Puerto Ricans – direct US colonialism; Chicanos — US annexation of Mexico’s northern territories; and Central Americans — pushed out by US supported wars or coups in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua. Other larger Latino populations from Cuba and Latin America (Venezuelans, Argentines, Chilenos) tend to be more middle- and upper-class populations.
In an evil bit of irony, Mexicans did make the front pages of US newspapers and were the lead in TV news shows when in 2015 Donald Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by characterizing Mexicans as “rapists and criminals,” and pledging to build a 2,000-mile wall along the US-Mexico border prevent any further incursion by Mexican immigrants. And he capped that despicable pledge by also promising to deport the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US, the overwhelming majority of whom are Latino. While the mainstream media carefully avoided the term “ethnic cleansing”, that is exactly what Trump was promising to the hysterical cheers of his MAGA base, and the fired-up testosterone of the armed racist militias waving their guns at Mexicanos on the other side of the border.
But other than the examples I have cited, the Latino population in this country is most often out-of-sight and out-of-mind, even in the media of the US Left, which mostly continues to frame US politics within a strictly “Black-white framework.
There is, however, a new exception to the ghosting of Latinos in the broader US society. And that has to do with the growing numbers and potential power of the Latino electorate. When important elections roll around, lo-and-behold, we are found! Since the 2020 elections there has been a veritable deluge of articles about Latino voters.
Misconceptions about Latino Voters
These articles fall roughly into two categories: one that has received the most attention is the notion that Latinos are essentially a conservative population, moving towards support for the Republican Party. The rationale for this assertion is that the GOP has been able to successfully appeal to the Latino values of family, church, and patriotism. This is not a new phenomenon, going as far back as the Nixon administration, which undertook a lukewarm effort to seduce Latino voters with these same threadbare arguments. One unspoken assumption of this argument is that there are communities in the US that do not value family, faith, and country, a reflection of dominant thinking about African Americans within the Republican Party and a cheap effort to divide Latinos and African Americans.
Another set of political articles argues that “there is nothing to worry about”, that Latinos continue to be strong supporters of the Democratic Party and are not going anywhere. In fact, an analysis by the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute of the 2020 elections strongly supports this assertion. Most of the articles warning about a Latino defection to the Republicans rely on exit polls for their analysis. The UCLA study relied however on an analysis of ballots cast, thereby avoiding the errors that often emerge from the small and not necessarily representative sample provided by exit polls. Exit polls also fail to take into account the impact of early and absentee voters, or possibilities of language bias.
The UCLA study analyzed Latino voting results for US Senate in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas. The study strongly debunks the “Latinos are going Republican” myth. It turns out that Latinos voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic Senate candidates, with no data indicating a decline in Democratic support for the Senate. Latino voters went 3-1 for the Democratic Senate candidates in Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia, and by a 2-1 margin in New Mexico, and Texas. What is of interest, however, is that except for Texas, Latino voters gave more votes to the Democratic candidates than to Joe Biden. Donald Trump received 2%-3% more votes in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico than did the Democratic Senate candidates. The Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia received 10% more Latino votes than did Biden. In Texas, there was no significant difference from Latinos in their votes for the Democratic Senate candidate and their votes for Joseph Biden.
Although not a component of the UCLA study, Latino voters in the important swing state Nevada also voted overwhelmingly Democratic. And Latino voters provide a significant part of Biden’s huge electoral victory in California.
As a Colorado homeboy, I was particularly interested in how the Chicanada had voted there is 2020. There are about 323,000 Latino registered voters in Colorado, accounting for 10.4% of the state’s registered voters. And according to the UCLA study, 315,000 cast their ballots in the 2020 election, shattering the myth that “yeah, Latinos never show up at the polls”. Latinos in Colorado voted for Biden and the Democratic Senate candidate, John Hickenlooper by a 3-1 margin over the Republicans, or put another way, 73% voted for Biden, and 76% for Hickenlooper. These are voting results than any serious political party would die for. By the way, less than half the white voters in my home state supported either Democratic candidate.
Let’s also look at Georgia with a fast-growing Latino population. Most of us know that the victories in Georgia US Senate races by Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were key to the Democrats gaining a 50-50 split in the US Senate, enabling Vice-President Kamala Harris to case tie-breaking votes. What most people don’t realize is how important the Latino vote was to those victories. An estimated 178,000 Latinos in Georgia voted in the 2020 election, representing 3.6% of the state’s electorate. But …. and this is a major But …. the Georgia Senate elections were decided by fewer than12,000 votes. Latino voters voted for the Democrat senatorial candidates by a greater than 3-1 margin (75% and 80%), clearly contributing to their margin of victory and they voted 67% for Biden. By contrast, less than 20% of white voters in Georgia supported any of the three Democratic candidates.
A similar picture is advanced by the UCLA study for the other states, which demonstrates that the Latino electorate remains strongly in the Democratic column. Texas, as usual, presents a very interesting and somewhat different picture. There are more than 5 million eligible Latino voters in Texas, representing 28.4% of the state’s electorate. In the 2020 elections nearly 3 million cast their ballots, supporting the Democratic US Senate (M.J. Hegar) and presidential candidates by a more than 2-1 margin; in other words 70% of Latinos voting for the Hegar and Biden, compared to less than 20% of that state’s white voters.
The UCLA precinct-level data confirms that Latinos continue to be a reliable electorate for the Democrats. However, and this is an important “however”, racist Donald Trump did increase his support among Latino voters, despite his outrageous racism, the Border Wall, and his promise to undertake an ethnic cleansing of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. But the study also warns that a significant number of Latino voters are “persuadable swing voters.” And Texas continues to be a state where Latinos have been unable to counter gerrymandering which is designed to dilute the power of the Latino vote.
Latinos Are Key to Progressive Change
The bottom line of all of this is that Latinos are becoming highly visible at election time. And our invisibility hides the hideous reality of our racial and national oppression – a massive wealth gap compared to whites, poor and under-resourced schools, police and migra repression, poor housing, super-exploitation in many workplaces, over-representation in the criminal justice system, and underrepresentation in higher education, suppression of our voting rights, oppression of our language and cultures, environmental and climate racism, and the continued loss of the our little remaining farmland.
The electoral arena is one important arena for addressing these issues, and for building Latino power as a major progressive force in US politics. After all, polls continue to demonstrate strong Latino support for unions, for women’s reproductive rights, for an expansion of voting rights for all oppressed communities, for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, for strong polices to address climate change, for universal medical care, expanded access to higher education, etc.
Currently the greatest threat to Latino voting power and to democracy in general comes from the Republican Right, a powerful social force of billionaires, neo-Nazis, white supremacist, Christian nationalists, and a growing number of armed militias. Common sense and an understanding of community’s interests should warn us to resist the siren song of the Republican Party, trying to reap the voting power we have worked so hard to grow and harvest.
But we should also call out the Democratic Party for too often taking us for granted (Are you listening Joe Biden?), failing once again to give sufficient priority to our issues and investing far too resources into helping build our electoral power, not only as voters but as candidates for office at the local, state, and national level. Without that support the Democrats will indeed face a dilemma – not of millions of our voters running to the Republicans – but of our people staying home at voting time, based on the feeling that we too often remain invisible and ignored.
Author’s Bio: Bill Gallegos is the former executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, a longtime Chicano activist, and a member of the editorial board of The Nation.